Origin of Life

Origin of Life (symbol)The difference between no creation and the existence of the universe is infinite. The question of why the universe exists will remain an unfathomable mystery to science without considering a metaphysical cause.

The similarity and complexity of all life at the molecular, genetic level point to and suggests a single origin and design. The repetitiveness and predictability of events point to existing laws. The wonder of life is not how long it may have taken for it to arise from nonliving matter, but that it did happen – being surrounded by incredible improbabilities. Life is both science (predictable laws) and a miracle (one-time event outside of natural laws).

According to a model of our cosmic origin and the origin of life on earth formulated by NASA, at first quantum fluctuations took place in virtual (non-existing) space – before the existence of space, energy, and time. This means that the laws of quantum mechanics predate the physical world and are timeless, abstract, and separate from nature. This parallels the biblical posit of a timeless, non-physical Creator God having created the universe.

Science and ancient Bible commentators agree that there was only one physical beginning – the “big bang” or the “creation of heavens and earth”. All that exist is the condensed energy of the big-bang creation (E = mc2). From our time perspective, billions of years ago the cosmic genesis started as intense, concentrated energy – electromagnetic radiation akin to super-powerful light beams. The energy then metamorphosed into the lightest elements, hydrogen and helium. These under the various gravitational forces and immense pressures formed into heavier elements within stars and supernovae. Through the process, energy was released appearing as star light. Bursts of supernovae released the 92 chemical elements which as stardust remains reached the once molten earth in the form of rocks, water and simple molecules. These then gave rise to life, including sentient beings with self-awareness, feelings and an inquiring mind.

The evidence of life is found in the earliest sedimentary rocks – DNA was already in place and operating. When life appeared, it already had purpose – the ability to reproduce. To quote physicist Paul Davies, life is “built into the scheme of things in a very basic way.”

Proteins are formed from amino acids arranged in a particular order. Amino acids stem from coded information on the DNA (chromosomes) which consists of groupings of four nucleic acids. Twenty different amino acids combined in various ways to form several hundred thousand proteins which gave rise to all life on earth. Mutations do occur, but most are neutral or harmful. The probability of random mutations as the engine of evolution is unimaginably small. Therefore another mechanism must be at work in the process of the origin of life and progression from simple to complex.

The complexity of information in the natural order needs to be preserved and sustained by a force or power, otherwise of and by itself, order degrades to chaos. In Genesis 1, the words “evening” and “morning” have the root or implied meanings of “chaos” and “order” respectively. Through the word of God, the chaos on earth gave way to life with proteins as building blocks.

Molecules have an amazing ability to “self-assemble” – this is build into the structure of the universe. The incredible complexity of various processes at the quantum level points to an intelligent mind being somehow embedded in them. Scientists have indeed begun to perceive a mind at work from the beginning. They agree that the universe looks more like a great thought than a great machine. Quoting atheist Michael Shermer, life can be seen as “a passing moment on the proscenium (front of the stage curtain) of the cosmos”. Any theatre show, however, is directed from behind the stage curtain. Quoting the late biologist, George Wald: “The stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff. It is mind that has composed a physical universe that breeds life and so eventually evolves creatures that know and create. … In them the universe begins to know itself.”

The Bible agrees. In John’s gospel we learn that “in the beginning was the logos (Greek for logic or intellect)” – John 1:1. A few centuries earlier the psalmist wrote: “With the word of God the heavens were made.” (Ps 33:6). Further, Genesis 1:1 states: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” A better translation of the original Hebrew word in Genesis would be: With a first cause God created the heavens and the earth.” Proverbs 8:12, 22-24 shows this first cause to be wisdom – a metaphysical emanation from the Creator. Wisdom, also perceived as logic, mind, or information, is the essence of existence – a ubiquitous substrate of every particle of the world and most evident in the brains and minds of humans as they wonder about their cosmic origins. The success of life is indeed “written into the fabric of the universe.” In a very real sense, the world has a “mind of its own”!

The apparent contradiction of the Genesis six-day creation story and the scientific estimate of the age of the universe being multiple billions of years can be accounted for by the fact that the flow of time is flexible. The rate at which time passes varies according to the conditions and temporal locations from which events are viewed. Ancient biblical commentators who wrote the Talmud understood this, learning from the detailed wording of Genesis that the universe is young and old simultaneously. Hominids walked the earth at the time of the biblical Adam and before, having human appearance but lacking the human soul, neshama.

Much can be learned from both the Bible and nature. Both are complex sources of wisdom that have intrigued and instructed peoples of all times, races and cultures.

Based on: God According to God, Chapter 2, by Gerald L. Schroeder (HarperOne, New York, 2009).

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